Archive for J.T. Miller
Isn’t everyone in a much better mood now that hockey is back? It doesn’t hurt that the Rangers won their opener against the defending champs and rained on their obnoxious banner-raising ceremony. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for the Blackhawks organization, but my god, that was a little much. The Blueshirts are back at it tonight against Columbus, so I figured I would share some thoughts on game day…
In the interest of keeping this in some semblance of order, I’m going to try and compartmentalize these bullets into ‘Hawks thoughts and then Blue Jackets thoughts.
Last week, I went through the bottom half of the third annual Top 25 Under 25 for the New York Rangers. The bottom half of the list is fairly interesting, because it had some players fall off the list completely, and players like Ryan Bourque, Cristival “Boo” Nieves, and Steven Fogarty fall significantly. This has a lot to do with the recent influx of talented prospects from the 2015 draft.
Remember though, there are a good number of players under 25 years of age that are on the NHL roster, and naturally that puts them ahead of a lot of players that still qualify as prospects. So let’s round out the top-12 players in the Top 25 Under 25 for the Rangers.
12. Adam Tambellini – Forward, 2013 3rd round (LY: 16)
Jeff Gorton keeps on impressing, signing two more RFAs in Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller. Miller surprised a few by taking his qualifying offer of one year at $874,130. Fast signed a two year deal worth $950,000 per season. which is exactly what I had him pegged at. Gorton’s ability to get both Miller and Etem to sign their QOs should be seen as a tremendous victory, as the Rangers now have ample cap space to get Derek Stepan under contract.
Both Miller and Fast will continue to have significant roles with the team next year.
While all the attention lately has been on Derek Stepan and his arbitration hearing, there are three other key RFAs that need to be signed to fill out the roster. Perhaps the most important aspect of signing Emerson Etem, J.T. Miller, and Jesper Fast –who will all be getting bridge deals– is that they are going to be relatively cheap bridge deals, and will help the Rangers stay under the cap.
All three forwards are coming off their entry level deals, and all none of them have much leverage. Miller and Fast didn’t crack the NHL with any regularity until this season when they both found key roles on the Rangers. Etem still hasn’t found a regular role and, despite his talents, has spent a lot of time on the fourth line. That doesn’t make for much bargaining power.
With the front office’s apparent decision to hang on to Kevin Klein, it now seems likely the Rangers will entire next season with an identical defense and starting goaltender to the group that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The real cause for concern is up front, where the departures of Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin stripped the Blueshirts of 38 regular season goals, equivalent to over 15% of their total offense in 2014-2015. Read More→
Last season, the Rangers deployed Benoit Pouliot, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello on their third line and Derek Dorsett, Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle on the fourth for much of the season. Needless to say, depth up front was a team strength.
Thanks to the cap crunch and some head-scratching offseason moves, the bottom-six just wasn’t quite the same this year. The team spent much of the season attempting to identify a third-line scoring winger and failed to support Dominic Moore on the checking unit. But though the sum of its parts wasn’t good enough, many members of the bottom-six did have terrific seasons.
What more could you ask for from the prized former Blackhawks first-round pick after he chose to join the Rangers last summer? Hayes really turned it on in the second-half, when it seemed like he improved every single game. Hayes has an impressive combination of size, hands and wheels, and the sky appears to be the limit for the 23-year-old. Hayes was a little quieter in the playoffs, but it’s hard to fault him for that.
Grade: A Read More→
When the Rangers started the season, there were many questions about which kids would make a significant impact on the big club. Kevin Hayes made the club out of camp, but his transition to center in the NHL was going to be a long road and there were times when he sat as a healthy scratch. Jesper Fast was yo-yo’d a few times this season before finally sticking around December. J.T. Miller received the same treatment.
By the time the Rangers started rolling in December, Hayes, Miller, and Fast had become the three rookie staples in the lineup. Hayes had been impressing everyone –literally everyone, as I don’t think there’s one person who believes the Rangers rushed him– as he adapted to the NHL and the rigors of the center position. He got better each and every game, first focusing on defense and positioning.
Hayes put up a modest 6-11-17 in the first four months (46 games). But once February came, Hayes turned up the scoring, notching 11 goals, 17 assists, and 28 points in the final 35 games. With Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan holding down the top two center spots, Hayes turned even his fiercest doubters into his largest supporters.
Who’s ready for another Game 7? I’m writing this as I watch the Blackhawks and Ducks duel, and it’s another reminder how much more enjoyable elimination games are when it’s not your team that’s playing. Tomorrow night is sure to be pure agony, at least until the final buzzer sounds. Then, hopefully, it will have been a ton of fun.
Since I can’t formulate coherent thoughts before this one, on to the musings:
– Though we can’t help but hope, there’s pretty much no chance Mats Zuccarello will play tomorrow. That said – if he were to practice today and was miraculously deemed game ready, where would he fit in the lineup? Zuccarello is not going to replace J.T. Miller in his old spot alongside Rick Nash and Derick Brassard after that trio produced 13 points in Game Six. Putting Zuccarello on the fourth line would obviously be a waste – but the same goes for Martin St. Louis, so slotting Zuc in on the third line and bumping MSL down doesn’t make sense either. The most likely hypothetical scenario would be to have Zuc replace Jesper Fast on the second line – but it’d be a real shame to banish Fast to fourth line Siberia with the way he’s played. Too bad it doesn’t matter.
– Speaking of Nash/Brassard/Miller, I did some quick addition after Tuesday’s game and noticed that the trio has accounted for 20 points in the series, just two fewer than the terrifying Triplets. Of course, 13 in one game skews that quite a bit, but hey, they did pretty much win that game singlehandedly (with help from Hank). You can show me all the statistics you want that say “clutch” isn’t real, but I refuse to believe it, and Brassard is a perfect counterexample.
The Blueshirts had pushed their chips to the middle of the table and with Henrik Lundqvist now 33 and reaching an age when he could logically be expected to decline, sacrificing draft picks and prized prospects at the expense of the team’s future was no longer of much concern.
The looming salary cap crunch meant a difficult decision lay ahead this summer between key free agents Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis, followed by another class of increasingly expensive FAs in 2016 including Yandle, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes.
But the late stages of the season and the start of the playoff run have changed things. Specifically, Lightning legends St. Louis and Boyle have quickly drifted from critical veteran cogs to afterthoughts, while the figurative torch has been passed to young emerging Blueshirts.
It was once assumed that Hagelin would be the odd man out this summer, but now it’s almost impossible to imagine the organization choosing to retain St. Louis over the Swedish speedster (although St. Louis could still re-sign for a bonus-laden veteran deal). Boyle likely plans to conclude his career when his deal expires following next season anyway, but the hole he’ll leave has already been patched with a much younger power play ace in Yandle.
The Blueshirts will still be up against the cap even subtracting these two players, but their young players are already exceeding the price tags of their rookie deals and have fortified the club’s core.
Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller were both terrific in the season’s final weeks and have continued that strong play into the postseason, while Kevin Hayes has only scratched the surface of his potential. Other young pieces like Kreider and Derek Stepan will bloom on Broadway for years to come. And there are still a couple more blue-chip prospects to come, with Pavel Buchnevich and Brady Skjei potentially joining the fray as soon as next season. Heck, if it were possible, plugging in Buchnevich and Skjei for St. Louis and Boyle might make the Blueshirts better right now.
Miller finally found a home when he was deployed alongside Hayes and Carl Hagelin on a third line that developed instant chemistry. And when the Blueshirts traded Lee Stempniak and Anthony Duclair, Miller’s position was virtually guaranteed for the rest of the season. That regular spot in the lineup seems to have been the confidence boost Miller needed to settle in as an NHL regular and take his game to the next level.
Since then, he’s gotten better and better. In March Miller trailed just Hayes, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider in P/60 and ranked seventh on the team in SCF% (by War-on-Ice’s definition). Miller earned a promotion to the second line in the wake of Marty St. Louis’ injury and has fit right in.